Saturday Night Live is an establishment. Since its inception in 1975, it has lasted 12 presidents, the rise of the Internet and more than 150 players. It’s hard to think of a show more steeped in popular culture than perhaps Seinfeld? Is it cake? Who knows.
Of course, what makes the show great is the cast. A list of the most famous SNL actors read like stars on the sidewalk of Hollywood Blvd. Some cast members used the show as a stepping stone to greater things — Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, and others simply stayed on the show for a very long time.
So who stayed the longest? Let’s find out.
Kenan Thompson – 19 seasons
If Thompson SNL career was his child, he was going to be 20 this year. That’s right, Thompson has been on the show since 2003, when George W. Bush was president and “In Da Club” by a new artist named 50 Cent was tearing up the charts.
During his tenure he brought us memorable characters like Diondre Cole from the fictional series What’s up with that?Steve Harvey with ridiculous teeth and French Def Jam comedian Jean K. Jean, among countless others.
In an interview with vanity lounge a few years ago, Thompson said he just wanted to be funny and spread happiness in his work.
“I’m just out there trying to be happy, basically,” he said.
Darrell Hammond – 14 seasons
It’s really saying something that the next person on the list is five years below Thompson’s current record. Hammond appeared on the show for 14 seasons from 1995 to 2009. He returned to take on the announcer position after the death of former longtime announcer Don Pardo.
One of Hammond’s best bits was impersonating Sean Connery as a contestant on Celebrity danger!. His back and forth with Will Ferrel’s Alex Trebek make for some of the show’s most iconic moments – especially when he claims to have slept with Trebek’s mother.
He played Trump before Alec Baldwin and is also widely considered one of the SNL‘s best political actors. And Hammond is aware of his Connery’s far-reaching reactions. He said rolling stone in 2020 that he is still recognized for it.
“I was always told when I was editing that the audience had to understand your premise and sort of agree with it for a laugh. And I remember thinking to myself, “They won’t understand this premise. They’re not going to be okay with that. It makes no sense that Sean Connery doesn’t know the answers on Peril!. It makes no sense that Sean Connery hates Alex Trebek. And it doesn’t make sense that he’s homophobic. He accused Alex Trebek of being – what did I say to Will Ferrell that night? [Connery voice] “Not a fan of the ladies, are you Trebek?” It does not mean anything. And yet, it’s by far the most popular thing I’ve ever done.
Seth Meyers – 13 seasons
Although he is probably best known as the host of the popular Late Night with Seth Meyers, the young writer and comedian spent much of his professional years on SNL. The 48-year-old comedian starred from 2001 to 2014.
From 2006 to the end of his tenure, he was a presenter on weekend updatewith the distinction of being the person who held this position the longest until it was eventually usurped by current hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che.
Meyers left the show to headline her own show, but in a recent interview with AND online he said he had aged too.
“I’m too old. I feel like when I went back there to host [in 2018], I felt like an athlete who lost about 10 miles of his fastball. It is so hard. I’m so impressed with everyone who still does. It was the best but it was a young man’s game. … Once you get to my age, once you have kids, I’m not cut out for that anymore.
Fred Armisen – 11 seasons
Armisen joined SNL in the show’s 28th season. He was a repertoire player on the show in Season 30 and left behind a host of memorable characters and sketches.
While he’s since moved on, the actor said EO he will never forget his time on the legendary show.
“You write until 6 and 7 in the morning, all night, and you just look like a mess, and your hair is greasy but you’re there and the sun comes up and you’re in front of this computer trying to write and laugh really hard. And that’s something that I’ll really always miss, and I just yearn for it, insofar as Saturday Night Live.”
Kate McKinnon – 11 seasons
Kate McKinnon joined SNL in 2012. She was one of the most memorable cast members in recent memory, with a hugely popular impression of Hillary Clinton that was often used in the run-up to Donald Trump’s presidency. .
McKinnon was the first openly lesbian cast member and she recently branched out with the series Joe Exotic, where she played animal trainer Carole Baskin. According to an interview with VarietyMcKinnon is notoriously shy in person, and she’s always felt more comfortable making people laugh.
She said doing the show during the pandemic was “cathartic” for her.
“Of all the seasons I’ve worked on ‘Saturday Night Live’, this was perhaps my favorite because it helped me feel less alone. I felt a sense of connection with the audience in the studio and the public at home. [Being able to] sharing the ridicule and pain of what we were all going through made my year bearable. If I hadn’t been able to commune with people through a television screen this year, I would have been in really bad shape.
Al Franken – 10 seasons
Before becoming a senator, then ceasing to be a senator, he was on SNL. Al Franken started the series as a writer for its first two seasons, then became a full cast member for the third.
He left the show in 1980 but returned in 1985 and remained until 1995. One of his most popular characters was Stuart Smalley, a fake self-help guru who has a show called Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley where he repeated the mantra “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and I don’t care, people love me.”
The other three longest-serving SNL cast members are all tied at ten seasons, but two of them are still on the show. They are Tim Meadows (1991 to 2000), Aidy Bryant (2012) and Cecily Strong (2012).
Still, there’s a long way to go to catch up with Thompson. Time will tell if anyone else is able to reach this landmark.